Have you ever wondered how foster families work, and what they’re really like? Then stay tuned as homeschool graduate Anne Evans offers a glimpse into her life as a foster parent. That’s today on Homeschool Heartbeat with your host, Mike Smith.
Mike Smith: Our guest this week is Anne Evans. She’s a homeschool graduate, author, homeschooling mom, and foster parent. Anne, welcome to the program!
Anne Evans: Great to be here! I remember ten years ago, talking to you in the Patrick Henry College cafeteria about, you know, what life after college was. So it’s great to be back here as a college graduate.
Mike: Well, those were the good old days, though, weren’t they?
Mike: So Anne, tell us about foster parenting. What exactly is it, and how does it work?
Anne: Well, I have my master’s in counseling so I have worked with both sides of the world here: with the parents who are having their children taken, as well as fostering the children. There’s a lot of reasons the child will be taken out of the home. The social worker’s goal is to try to first bring services into the home, you know, get them through counseling, help the parents keep their children. But sometimes the children do need to be taken out of the home for safety’s sake. There’s a lot of drug use, unfortunately. Sometimes there’s mental health issues—the parent just is unable to function as a parent for a certain amount of time. [There is] domestic violence, sometimes just lack of support. If a 16-year-old has a baby and doesn’t have, you know, grandparents to help her, she might just end up not being able to take care of that child, right?
So after a child is taken from the home, the social workers will call all the foster families in the local area and say, basically, “Oh, we have a 2-year-old boy. Can you take him for the next year, or six months, or two years?” So it takes a lot of flexibility, which is why homeschool graduates and homeschooling parents are very good at it, because you definitely have to be flexible to make homeschooling work.
Mike: What prompted you and your husband to do this?
Anne: Well, I have wanted to be a foster parent since I was 10 years old. I remember when I was 10 years old, I was at a homeschool P.E. group that my mom ran, and I met these four little girls—all toddlers and younger—sweetest little girls. And they were in foster care; they were there with their foster mom. And I, being a big sister in a homeschooling family, loved little kids, and I played with them and pushed them on the swing. And they just loved the attention—you could tell that no one had really played with them or talked to them much in their little lives. So that just really inspired me, that I had a lot of love to share and I wanted to do that.
And then I married my husband six years ago, and I remember telling him, “Oh, we should be foster parents some day!” And he said, “Hmm, I should think about that.” But we talked about it for six years, and last year we took the plunge.
Mike: Anne, what have been some of the best moments of your foster parenting journey?
Anne: Definitely the kids. They’re such sweet kids. I think people think, “Oh, foster kids—they must, you know, get in trouble a lot or be bad kids.” And obviously, after the trauma, they can be a little high needs, but they are such sweet kids. And I love being able to do “firsts” with them. These kids, they might never have been to the zoo, never have been to a restaurant. And you get to be the person to do that with them.
I had these two little boys—I had them for a week as a respite placement. And I took them to the swimming pool. And they looked at the water, and they were like, “Oh, what is that?” And it was so obvious they’d never been to a swimming pool. And I coached them in—they were, 3 and 4, I think—got them to play in the water. And they loved it, and they were getting their heads under and learning how to swim. And it was such a neat experience to see them enjoying a new thing.
My son is 3, and he’s, you know, obviously, always—being the only child, gets all the attention. So he really doesn’t appreciate it anymore. He just thinks that’s what the world’s about. But these kids, they just appreciate the experience of being read a book to, being sung a lullaby. I sang these kids some Bible lullaby songs when they were with me, and they were like, “Oh, I want to do ‘The wise man built his house upon the rock.’ I want to sing that one again!” And they were just so excited. So that was really cool to see their excitement.
Mike: Well Anne, that’s the good part. What are the challenging parts to being a foster parent?
Anne: To be quite honest, it’s the adults. There’s a lot of paperwork—a lot of paperwork—in becoming a foster family, and there’s a lot of bureaucracy. I’ve worked in the mental health field, so I can say this: mental health workers are not always the easiest people to get along with. Yeah, we’re still—still doing paperwork. But it’s worth it for the kids. It really is.
Mike: Anne, what questions should families ask themselves before becoming a foster family?
Anne: Well, a big question is where their current family is right now. Obviously, you need to meet your own children’s needs first, and you need to have something left over. So if you’re completely overwhelmed and stressed, that might not work out so well.
And second, how flexible and able to love are you? Because these children, they need a lot of love. They’ve been through trauma. A lot of them have been through physical abuse and different things, and they’ve never been accepted, a lot of them. So just being able to love a child that’s not your own, being able to meet their needs. And, you know, sometimes they’re high-energy. I talked to one person that wanted to be a foster parent, and they had this idea that kids should sit still all day. And I’m like, “I don’t think that’s going to work out so well, [if a] high-energy little 5-year-old comes in your life.”
And then, you have to be willing to deal with some bureaucracy and some paperwork. But it’s definitely worth it. It opens up your world to some people that you probably would never meet at a grocery store, at church, or anything like that.
Mike: So let’s say a family asks all those questions, and they decide, “Yes, we want to be a foster family.” What’s the next step for them?
Anne: Well now, every state is different, but I’m speaking from the Colorado laws, and they’re pretty similar. Normally, there’s two ways you can become a foster family. You can either become licensed through the county, and that means you get—like Loudoun County where HSLDA is—all the children get placed within that county. Or you can get licensed through a private agency and then you get children from the whole state. And then there’s Christian agencies. They’re still free and everything, but you get the support of the private agency as well. And the first thing you normally do is you go to an information meeting for about an hour and they tell you all the steps. And you have to go through about nine weeks of classes. Then you have to do a home study, where they go into your home and look at your home: if it’s safe. It’s pretty basic stuff: do you have a fire exit, does your heat work, do you have a car and insurance? And they ask a million questions about your life. And after that, you’re licensed!
Mike: Anne, how do you explain the idea of a foster family to your son, and how can parents prepare their children for being a foster family?
Anne: Well, my son was 2 when we first started doing this. And I thought, “Oh, I should read him a book about this.” All my friends were pregnant with their second one, and they were reading books to their child about how to prepare for having a younger sibling. But obviously, that wasn’t what was happening. We were inviting a small child into the home for a short amount of time, and then they’d leave. And I couldn’t find any books like that. So I decided to write one. I wrote What’s a Foster Family?, and it released earlier this spring. And then I just released this month, for national adoption month, What’s a Forever Family?
And in the book—that I really wrote for my son, it’s a picture book—the little boy gets to met the new foster child that comes into the home. At first they have to share toys—you know, that whole thing, being an only child. And then they really bond, but then the child has to leave. And really dealing with that loss, because that is a loss for your child. And then a new child comes into the home at the end of the book, and that child actually does get adopted in the end.
But yeah, I think the biggest thing is just telling your child that these children will come into your home and then they will leave, and being honest about that. And I think children really accept that sometimes better than we do, because there’s something in us, as a parent, to think, “This is my child, they’re here, I am going to love them forever,” when really, you’re just helping out another parent.
Mike: How did being homeschooled yourself prepare you for being a foster parent?
Anne: Well, I was homeschooled kindergarten through 12th grade. And the thing I really admire about homeschoolers is how much they focus on their children. For a homeschool mom, oftentimes her whole life revolves around getting this child educated and loved and taught and really being a mom.
So that kind of dedication is something that I took with me in my attitude as a foster parent, because, to be honest, a lot of foster parents don’t care that much about their foster kids. It more is a paycheck to them, because, you know, it’s a job they can do. And that’s not what these kids need. They need the love, the attention. They need someone to believe in them and really be there for them. Because you can get away with—[with] a child that’s had a good childhood—maybe not reading them so many books, not helping them so much. But these children, because of their early neglect—it really helps them to get that kind of one-on-one attention of, “Here, I’m going to teach you your letters, I’m going to read you a book, I’m going to take you on this cool field trip to a historical site.”
So all these things I learned about from my parents homeschooling me and giving me all that attention are things that I am able to give a foster child and really help them thrive and outdo the expectation of what maybe even their social worker has for them.
Mike: Now, obviously you get the kids when they come home from school, so do you actually try to invest a little education into them?
Anne: Definitely, because they haven’t been given a whole lot of education, and they’re smart kids, so you can get them caught up. And that’s what I love about homeschooling parents, is they’re just so invested in doing learning. All life is a learning opportunity, right, to homeschool parents?
Mike: Yeah, yeah. What about special needs children? Are you available to take them, or not?
Anne: Well, it depends what the special need is. We’re available for the mental health special needs that they have: anxiety or behavioral issues. Not the low IQ as much, because that’s not my specialty.
Mike: Anne, are there any specific things that homeschool parents that want to be foster families should know before they actually get involved in this?
Anne: Well you do have to know that you cannot homeschool these children while they are in foster care. Obviously children that are adopted, you can. But while they’re in foster care, they legally must go to public school. But I do think the techniques and the tools and the rich educational environment that homeschool families have created in their homes is still such a blessing to these children. A lot of times, they may be a little behind in school because they haven’t had much help. So all those fun math manipulatives and homeschool field trips that happen in the afternoon, evenings, and weekends can definitely benefit a foster child.
Mike: Well, that is actually true because in homeschooling, school is never out.
Anne: That’s true.
Mike: Not that we like to hear that, as a student, but that is actually the case. Schooling is never out when you’re learning, period.
Well Anne, it’s been a distinct pleasure to have you with us this week. I know it’s been inspiring for our listeners to hear about how they can give hope to the children in their communities through foster parenting. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.